Would you travel in an automated vehicle?
National Transport Commission to examine the introduction of automated vehicles.
Autonomous cars will happen, perhaps not as soon as you may imagine, but someday. One bollard halting their arrival is a collection of some 700 road traffic laws – all written for human drivers.
What if a driver isn’t human?
The National Transport Commission (NTC), tasked with improving the safety and performance of the Australian transport network is asking: “How will Australia’s laws and regulations be affected when a machine, rather than a human, is in control of a car?”
To answer this question, those 700 laws need amending. Right now, the wording of traffic regulation presumes human drivers. So what happens once a computer is controlling the vehicle?
There are further ethical questions that need considering too, such as, what happens if a self-driving vehicle crashes into a human motorist – who is responsible? The automated car’s owner, the manufacturer? The car itself is not legally considered accountable for its actions. Issues like these have the potential to disrupt everything from car ownership to the motor insurance sector.
Pushing for answers
The NTC isn’t in the business of asking rhetorical questions. According to NTC chief executive Paul Retter, they are carrying out extensive research currently in collaboration with governmental departments.
“These issues are being addressed by the NTC as part of a comprehensive program of work being undertaken in collaboration with all levels of government to create an end-to-end regulatory system for automated vehicles,” Retter said.
This year, the transport commission plans on releasing a regulation impact statement, which will be open for public input. The focus at this stage is all about safety and ensuring vehicles with driverless technology are fit for use on public roads. It will also factor in how the vehicle insurance industry may be affected and how to regulate the use of data generated by cars.
More than just driverless cars
When you think of autonomous or automated vehicles, you probably picture a totally driver-free vehicle, but this isn’t the case. There are several levels of autonomy and Retter wants regulations to cover every stage by 2020.
“Manufacturers are progressively introducing automated features, such as braking, acceleration and steering. They still envisage a human driver taking control of the vehicle at some point in the journey or if something goes wrong.
“We aim to have an end-to-end regulatory system in place so that all levels of automated vehicles can operate safely and legally on our roads from 2020,” said Retter.
What will cars of the future look like?
In the future, cars will talk to each other and roadside infrastructure to communicate early warnings of upcoming hazards or developing potholes. The NSW government is already testing automated cars on Sydney motorways while the ACT government is starting private testing. Some studies suggest that traffic may become worse with more self-driving cars hitting the streets.